Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Review: Hellsing & Hellsing Ultimate

Title: Hellsing & Hellsing Ultimate
Language: Japanese
Rating: R-17+
Genre: Action, Horror, Seinen, Supernatural, Vampire
Episodes: 23 & 10

All my years of being part of the anime fandom, I have heard this series constantly from horror fans. When I watch WatchMojo countdowns, it's either the original or Ultimate that is mentioned. After some years have passed, I finally got around to watching it, including a supplementary episode. Obviously, this is going to be a lengthy review and I'm going to try my hardest to split things up.

Decades ago, the legendary Dr. Abraham Van Helsing and his companions defeated Count Dracula, one of the world's deadliest vampires. After this success his name was used in the founding of the Hellsing Organization, a British task force with the duty of eliminating supernatural threats.

"Hellsing" follows the exploits of that very organization. Led by Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, the Hellsing Organization finds its trump card not in the power of man, but in the strength of a monster it has tamed. Alucard, one of the oldest and most powerful vampires in existence, now hunts his fellow monsters at Hellsing's bequest. Alongside new recruit Seras Victoria, Alucard will find that a new threat has arisen, one greater than anything the Hellsing Organization has ever dealt with before.
[Source: MyAnimeList]

Going in chronological order, I'm starting with 2001's Hellsing, which apparently detours from its manga source material. I won't be doing any comparisons here as I have not read the manga and probably won't be for quite some time now. Just too many titles in my reading list is all. Things I've heard recently about this first entry, before starting it, is that not many fans enjoyed it compared to Hellsing Ultimate. Some complain about the animation being dated and not looking as crisp and others complain about it not following its source material. Of course, I've only seen these complaints in small pieces as it seems the franchise as a whole is beloved by horror and vampire anime fans. Starting with some positives, I thought the story was very interesting and I loved the diversity of the characters. The viewer is given nearly equal opportunity on learning about our main characters: Integra, Alucard, and Seras Victoria. Watching these characters work together, including Walter, was always entertaining and intriguing, especially when their personal dynamics change in certain episodes. The story also successfully puts Integra and Alucard in the spotlight as I felt a lot for these characters. It almost feels like your Seras and you're trying to figure out this brand new world of supernatural creatures and immortality the same time she is and I appreciate that. Of course, I'll go into more detail on these characters later on in this review as I really want to break them down a little further and compare the two versions of them.

Older animation can sometimes become a little difficult to adjust to when you're used to crisp, clean animation you see in present day anime series. If you look at my track record in my reviews or even my MAL, you would know that I'm not bothered by the dated art style. It is a little rougher and darker compared to, let's say, Magic Knight Rayearth. Of course, there's a big genre difference between them as well. Anyway, I didn't have too many problems with the animation as I thought the rough, darkness of the style suited the tone of the series. There was plenty of grit and violence to satisfy me and get the point across of each character's personality. In short, I personally didn't have a problem with this style of animation. Before I get into the cons of this series, I want to move forward with Hellsing Ultimate and do some comparisons in between the critiques.

There exist creatures of darkness and evil that plague the night, devouring any human unfortunate enough to be caught in their grasp. On the other side is Hellsing, an organization dedicated to destroying these supernatural forces that threaten the very existence of humanity. At its head is Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, who commands a powerful military and spends her life fighting the undead.

Integra's vast army, however, pales in comparison with her ultimate weapon: the vampire Alucard, who works against his own kind as an exterminator for Hellsing. With his new vampire servant, Seras Victoria, at his side, Alucard must battle not only monsters, but all those who stand to oppose Hellsing, be they in the guise of good or evil.

In a battle for mankind's survival, "Hellsing Ultimate" proves that appearances are not all they may seem, and sometimes the greatest weapon can come in the form of one's worst nightmare.
[Source: MyAnimeList]

In 2006, a 50 minute OVA more closely based to the manga source material was released. Once again, I would like to remind you, dear readers and Cult followers, that I won't be comparing these two source materials here. From my observation in the comments, it seems like fans prefer this version to the 2001 release. The animation is a little more polish and crisp like present day anime. So, it's a little less rough around the edges. Even though the colors are a little more vivid and pop out, it still maintains a dark and mature tone. It would be silly if it had a bright color palette, right? The characters for the most part are the same. We still have Integra, Seras, William, and Alucard, but we have a different enemy to deal with and a slightly different execution of storytelling.

While the 2001 version gave us different points of view of our main cast by providing backstory and reactions to their environment and interactions with each other, this OVA strictly sticks to a third person point of view and doesn't delve into the intimacies of backstory as much. If you watch the 2001 version, it does help with understanding the characters to some extent, but most of the time you can vaguely figure out how things came to be as they are now. Instead of using flashbacks to tell Integra's story and relationship with Alucard, the narrative is mostly in chronological order and starts with her as a young girl fleeing and defending herself from her uncle. It also introduces Alucard, during this time period, and mostly covers a very similar backstory for both of them compared to the 2001 series. Seras' backstory is mostly glossed over and doesn't delve into the intricate details of how she became a vampire and part of the Hellsing organization compared to 2001. I enjoy backstory, but the condensed version presented in the OVA doesn't dissuade my enjoyment of Seras' character. What this OVA offers that the 2001 series lacks is a clear enemy and motivation. Father Anderson, Montana "The Major" Max, and their underlings provide entertaining action and an intimidating threat that really move the story along and also pick on certain emotional cues in their appropriate scenes. While I was a tiny bit unclear on their plan against Hellsing and company, it didn't leave me with this question of "what was the point of all that?". "That" being the countless dead and undead bodies. These foes were amusing, fun, and fleshed out enough to know that they're up to no good and that they need to go soon.

So, where do I stand between Hellsing and Hellsing Ultimate? Well, in short, they're both very entertaining and enjoyable anime. It was just what I needed to break up my rotation at the time with some mature, violent vampire action. As for which I prefer, well, they both have their pros and cons of course. The main cast, for the most part, stay the same across the board. I rather liked that Hellsing delves into Seras' story more, but I like the narrative arrangement better in Hellsing Ultimate for the rest of the characters. Ultimate does present a more intimidating threat for our main cast and there's a more clear motive displayed to the viewer compared to the 2001 version. I don't have a particular preference in art style between the two, but sometimes the comedic moments spliced into Ultimate can be a little off putting and slightly derails the flow of the dark atmosphere of the story. Sure, a little comedy here and there is fine, but I just wasn't expecting these "super deformed" versions of our cast to be slipped in during tense moments. Also, these moments tend to make Seras the butt of the joke or comedic relief. I must admit that a lot of the time I was confused which direction the story was going in the 2001 version and the editing was simply better in 2006. It didn't jump all over the place and I knew exactly which direction we were going with our characters. So, if I had to pick, Hellsing Ultimate is better, but I wouldn't ignore the 2001 version either. Also, I would like to mention that I listened to both the English and Japanese versions of these shows and mostly leaned toward the Japanese audio. While the voice actors in the dub aren't terrible, certain characters seemed to fit my perception of how they should sound like in my mind more in Japanese like Alucard and Seras. But I can confidently say that they're both pleasing to the ears.

Now for a little supplementary watching in the form of Hellsing: The Dawn. According to MyAnimeList, this 10 minute special was bundled with the Hellsing Ultimate Limited Edition collection. While this special isn't required viewing after experiencing Hellsing Ultimate, it gave me a little extra time with Walter and Alucard in their current forms after the OVA. The supplementary story retains its entertainment value and the visuals do not slack off either. If you enjoyed Ultimate and you can find this 10 minute special, it is a pleasant watch.

Over the years, I've heard so much hype from horror anime fans and many fangirls siting this as a favorite series of theirs. I honestly was a bit worried upon first approach with 2001's Hellsing as I lacked that internal hype factor, due to the awkward structure of the story and lack of a threat, but the characters kept me hooked and entertained. Hellsing Ultimate definitely improved on the flaws that its predecessor had in 2006 and polished up its animation and art style, structured the story in a less confusing way, and had some intimidating and enjoyable threats for our main cast in the Hellsing Organization. Despite the complaints I had with either version, I genuinely had fun with these characters and gained some favorites along their insane and intense battle. I recommend this to the horror anime lovers out there who haven't had the Hellsing experience yet.

Rating: 4/5

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